What Riding Equipment is Allowed in the Show Ring?

equine nosebands, equine martingales, horse whips, draw reins, tack allowed equestrian competition, aqha competition rules, equestrian canada competition rules

Don’t Get Caught With Your Splint Boots On! 

By Lindsay Grice, Equestrian Canada coach and judge 

What riding equipment is allowed, and what's not, across the riding disciplines?

Nosebands — Equestrian Canada (EC) dressage and jumper rules permit various drop, flash, and figure-eight nosebands in the show ring. Plain cavessons must be part of an English bridle for EC hunter and AQHA English competitors, while none are allowed for Western competitors. A Western tie-down (similar to a bosal attached to a standing martingale) without any built-in noseband is authorized for competitors in Western speed events and roping. Most rule books now specify that nosebands must not be over-tightened or used in such a way that they interfere with a horse’s breathing. Thankfully, research has developed less subjective methods of determining noseband tightness.

Know Your Nosebands

Before using a noseband, understand what it’s meant to do, and remember that to a horse that hasn’t mastered the basics, more restrictive equipment only amplifies signals he doesn’t fully understand. 

equine nosebands, equine martingales, horse whips, draw reins, tack allowed equestrian competition, aqha competition rules, equestrian canada competition rules

Related: Would Your Horse's Noseband Pass the Test?

Spurs — In Western disciplines there are few specifications for spurs, except that they not be used in front of the cinch or “excessively.” Across the board, raw or bleeding skin from spur use is a quick ticket to disqualification. AQHA does not allow slip-on spurs and restricts English spur length to one inch. English spurs are typically limited to the non-rowelled type, with the exception of rolling balls. Dressage rules permit longer spurs of almost two inches or five cm, and those with smooth rowels are allowed.

Whips — Many rule books include a permitted whip length. Dressage whips are limited to 120 cm and most other EC classes specify a 75 cm maximum length. AQHA hunter flat classes don’t permit whips, while they are allowed in EC flat classes. AQHA forbids whips in schooling for showmanship or in any Western classes, except for speed events. In all rule books, excessive use of the whip earns a disqualification. EC states that excessive use of the whip includes overhand use, more than three times in a row, or on the horse’s head.

Draw reins — Most disciplines include restrictions for draw reins. A low attachment, between or around front legs, while acceptable in the EC hunter/jumper schooling ring, is not allowed on AQHA show grounds. EC open jumper riders may use draw reins at lower jump heights. Restrictive devices such as the chambon and side reins are forbidden on AQHA show grounds whereas they are authorized in the schooling ring, on the flat, and at EC hunter/jumper competitions. Side reins are the only permitted lunging devices in the dressage warm-up ring.

Martingales — These are commonly allowed in classes over fences, but not on the flat. Most rule books specify that running martingales must be used with rein stops. Dressage riders may warm up in running martingales, but not standing martingales. A Western speed event rider may compete with either a standing or running martingale. 

In my 30 years of molding horses for their jobs, I’ve collected an endless array of leather and buckles and snaps, promising to fix every equine evasion. You likely have a tack box full, too.

Now, with a wealth of evidence available to us, we can make our artificial aid choices by analysis, not by accident. I remind my students to always consider: 

  • WHY am I using this tack?
  • Why am I using THIS tack?

Your horse will thank you.

Related: The Science of Tack and Training Aids

Main Photo: Shutterstock/Sveglana Ryazantseva


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